Saturday, February 27, 2010

What is wrong with gaming today? I'll tell you what...

Written in kind of reaction to:

Hard backed books.

I was in Manchester this week, so stuck my head into Travelling Man, Fanboy 3 and Forbidden Planet to pick up and browse through some geek books, like in the old days.

So, nowadays, you can basically only buy a really nice looking, well made, beautifully printed hardback book when shopping for a supplement (not the core rules, a supplement).
The design standards are all top notch, the writing is impressive, the artwork lovely.

However, they all cost about £20!
For a supplement!?

Ok, this is ten years ago, but i used to buy one or two supplements a month. Splat books, campaign books, setting books, additional rule or option books. I pissed my money away, but that was fine, because it didn't feel like i was spending money.
£8 for a clan book? Seems fair.
£14 for a meta plot advancement with loads of new powers and character options? Cool.
£22 for a supplement about guns? Fuck off!

That's why the hobby is going down the pan and nobody buys teh books anymore.

Indiana Jones vs The Deep Ones?

I am catching up on geek i have missed. Interesting, very interesting..

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Antagonist design

I chose Hunter: The Vigil as a good game to run for my local club for two main reasons.
  1. The core concept is fairly simple to grasp, and doesn't deviate much from, say, 'traditional' D&D. You are hunting monsters. You do so either for money, entertainment, to settle a debt / grudge or to protect the people and places you hold dear.
  2. Hunter is a good gateway drug to introduce the players to the other World of Darkness games.
I try to keep these two aims in mind - keep the concept simple, introduce the players to other supernatural beings - when planning sessions.
Ok, you might point out that last night was only the third session proper for this game, however i've kept it up so far.
The first story arc I ran, which as discussed earlier was only supposed to last a session, was about hunting a neonate vampire. It had a quick investigate / locate / fight structure, and served to introduce the players to the system, both roleplay and combat.

For the next story arc, I wanted to introduce another denizen on the WoD, and ran through a few options in my head.
A Promethean? Good idea, but possibly a bit too hard for them at this stage.
A Changeling? Again, good idea, but too complex at this stage.
Another Vampire? That would set a precedent and establish Vampires as the main antagonists of the game. I'd like to avoid that at the moment.
A Werewolf? Even a single Werewolf would tear them all to shreds right now. Maybe a challenge for later on.
A Slasher? I thought about being lazy and using one of the pre-gens from the Slasher book. I quite like the idea of Slashers as a distinct adversary within the setting. Maybe next time.

Instead I settled on using a ghost. Ghosts are supposed to be a core element of the new WoD, with specific Werewolf tribes, Mage paths, Promethean lineages being dedicated to them. And, of course, there's Geist.
So, ghosts are supposed to be fairly common, yet I feel they're often overlooked in favour of the game line specific baddy or other more exotic concepts.

I started by looking at the pre-gen ghosts at the back of the WoD core book. The 'deceiver' ghost looked most like what I wanted.

I then started thinking about motivation and anchors and the like.
I knew that the group would be challenged by a ghost, as they had no way of directly harming it, and the only way they would be able to resolve the challenge would be to either destroy its anchors or complete its unfinished work.

I knew that I wanted a hateful, murdering ghost and, because I wanted to keep things simple, decided that the ghost was a hateful murderer in life as well.
I'd been thinking about what fun I could have with the Phantasm numina, which is essentially an illusion only one person can see, and thought about having a cop shoot an innocent bystander because an illusion showed him brandishing a weapon at the cop.
Seemed like a classic way to get people killed or cause complications for somebody using a simple illusion, so I used it as the starting point for the concept.

Looking at anchors, I had a mobility problem.
I wanted the ghost to move around, yet most anchors are stationery, or if they can move, the ghost is unable to control that movement. Also, if I made a living person an anchor, they would have to kill them to banish the ghost. Whilst this would make for an interesting moral quandry, I don't think they're ready for it yet.
In the end, I settled on two anchors - an old taxi cab and an old shed. This gave me two distinct places / objects to be investigated and destroyed, and allowed some mobility.
Maybe a ghost shouldn't be able to drive a cab, but I fudged that.

So, the concept ended up as: Serial killing taxi driver returns from the dead to a/ continue his great work, and b/ extract his revenge on the cop that killed him. The dead cabbie haunts his old taxi cab, which he uses to collect fresh victims, and a shed on the outskirts of town, where he used to cut up his victims.

With this in mind, I had another look at the Deceiver template, and decided that it wasn't quite what I needed.
I statted my own ghost, of similar ability, and gave it telekinesis and animal control instead of ghost sign and terrify.

The finished product, plus my own notes for play, are below.
Unfortunately the group spent too much time dicking around investigating the last story arc to actually meet this guy, but hopefully next week...

Bill Redwood


Attributes: Power 4, Finesse 3, Resistance 4

Willpower: 8

Morality: 4

Virtue: Temperance

Vice: Lust

Initiative: 7

Defence: 4

Speed: 17

Size: 5

Corpus: 9   


Animal Control – Cost 1 essence. Power + Finesse – animals Resolve. Control 3 animals at once

Phantasm – Cost 1 Essence. Power + Finesse. Negative modifiers applied for complexity. Target makes Wits + Occult roll to disbelieve the illusion.

Telekinesis – Cost 1 Essence. Power + Finesse. Successes = ghosts relative strength. -3 modifier to attack directly, ignores Defence, cover and armour.

Anchors: Old taxi cab, Killing hut in South West Philadelphia

History: Bill Redwood had been a cabbie in Philadelphia for ten years when he got stiffed for a fare. He chased the fare down and when he caught up with him, a fight ensued. Bill didn’t mean to kill him, but when he did, he was left with blood on his hands and a body to dispose of.

He took the corpse to an old warehouse near the airport that his Uncle used to work out of, cut the body up and fed it to the local stray dogs.

Whether it was the act of killing, or the cutting and dismemberment afterwards, but something broke in Bill from that point.

The next fare dodger was hunted down and disposed of in the same way. And then another. Then Bill started driving the long way round to bump up the fare. Then he started looking for other reasons – Queue jumpers. Rude people. Ugly people. Pretty people. People who wouldn’t be missed.

This carried on for months, all the while Bill upped his game and targeted more and more challenging prey.

People soon noticed, and Philadelphia became gripped with a fear of the Cabbie Killer.

The city’s cab drivers pulled together and attempted to police their ranks. Local government ran campaigns to raise safety awareness. The Philly PD worked overtime to track the killer down.

In the end, it was luck that stopped Bill Redwood. Two bored patrol cops stopped his cab near the edge of the National Wildlife Refuge, and discovered the separated remains of Redwood’s latest victim in the trunk.

Redwood was shot, executed, in cold blood by Officer Phil Davies after he surrendered. Davies’ partner, Nick Richmond, corroborated Davies’ story that Redwood had moved to attack them with a hatchet.

The truth is, Redwood was relieved to have finally been caught, and was willing to hand himself in.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pride and / or Joy

I recently went full geek, and made up a gaming hobby case.
Bask in it's glory.

Hunter: The Vigil - Forming / Storming / Conforming / Performing

Ran session two of Hunter: The Vigil for the Bolton gaming group last night, and managed to attract four players: Gemma, Chris J, James and Gareth.
I'd spent the two weeks since the first session sketching out in my head what I wanted to happen. The challenge was to turn what should have been a quick introductory encounter at the end of the first session into a viable session in and of itself.
It's a new game to the group, and the first time i've run 'Vigil, so i'd originally planned a very basic first session - Local druggie drop-out becomes a vampire, and uses his new powers to kill / beat up the local gang members and drug dealers that he'd formally worked for / bought from.
I 'designed' the antagonist to be a brutal thug, as subtle as a brick, and fairly unintelligent, then threw in the horrific murder of his nice, normal middle class suburban parents to give the players some additional motivation to stop him, just in case a bunch of dead pimps, pushers and players wasn't really floating their boat.

The first session started a little later than envisaged due to character creation and my general disorganisation, but I was happy with the quality of the roleplay coming out.
Then the roleplay got a little too out of hand - everybody wanted to explore their character and showcase their 'soft' skills. The drug addict got high, the criminal stole medicine from the hospital.
Not that I mind any of that, in moderation, but it did slow down the session considerably.
The last 'encounter' (still thinking in linear terms, after all this time) should have been a quick fight with the vampire. They'd established his identity, found a pattern to his attacks and determined who would be next. They'd even narrowed it down to a place and time.
They should have just gone there, waited for him to show up and jumped him. A quick combat would have followed and the session ended.
However, we didn't have time, so it carried over to the next session.

So, to return to my challenge, I had to stretch something that should have taken 15 minutes into about two hours.

I started off by thinking about what I wanted to acheive.
It would still be the first combat of the game, so it had to be a 'good example' of combat. Basic, and introduce the players to the possibilities.
It also had to present additional challenges beyond 'kill this one guy'.
They knew that the vampire's next target was a dealer called 'Tuco' (yes, when needing low life villain names on the fly, I ripped off 'Breaking Bad), so I fleshed him out a bit (again, in my head, as I've realised that 60% of prep' doesn't see the light of day) and built up the scenario in which they would meet him.
I also added some faceless gang members and a ghoul retainer to the vampire, and populated the neighbourhood with tricks, johns and junkies.

I'm pleased with the way to players rose to the challenge. They got close to Tuco, without making any attempt to warn him or ally themselves with him. Basically, they put themselves in direct danger from a dangerous criminal so that they could react effectively to the vampire when he arrived.
I can see, at this early stage, that they're quite morally ambivalent. The majority have no qualms about commiting crimes themselves, either to aid the hunt or to aid their pockets, yet have no time or patience for criminals. In fact, the drug dealers and gang members caught in the cross fire were not mourned and barely noticed. Clearly these people have never seen Austin Powers.

I think I wasn't consistent or harsh enough with Morality tests or Degeneration.
James should have had to make a Morality check for shooting the crippled, defenceless ghoul, and Gareth should have had to have made one for accidentally shooting the gang member being fed on by the vampire.
I can see Gareth's TF:V character adopting an alternative code of conduct before too long, anyway. He doesn't seem to be adverse to this suggestion.

The session ended with a wounded ghoul and a torpid vampire being gaffa taped up and bunged in their boot for further investigation / interrogation.

Next session should be next week. I'm having a real think about what to do. I've got a number of ideas, mostly ones I didn't get to use from my old CSI: World of Darkness game, however these are maybe a little too hard for the Hunter Cell at the moment.
I'd like to do something with ghosts, which adds an additional challenge in that none of them can perceive or effect ghosts or spirits at the moment.
I may do something with a demon cult, or I might use some ideas from the World of Darkness: Slashers book (a fantastic book that genuinely gets you excited about eating peoples livers).
Or I might do a mash up.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pedigree / verdigris

The purpose of this post is to magically transform me from a random voice in the 'blogosphere' into somebody who somebody else might want to listen to (whether or not it's an authoritive voice is a matter for further posts and individual opinion)

Let me know how I do...

If you're into formal qualifications, then I have a Diploma of Higher Education in Literature and Creative Writing. I should have a BA (hons), but decided to drink beer and chase girls in my final year instead of doing work.
To be honest, all i've done with my creative writing training is run games and write dungeons.

Whilst at Uni I got involved in Live-Action Role Play (LARP or LRP). It was a 'mud and beer' club, which means that you resolved conflict by picking up a foam/rubber sword and whacking your antagonist with it. They also whacked you back, so that's alright.
I spent about three years writing adventures, or linears, for the club. The basic format of a linear adventure was about 8 encounters, mostly fighting with one or two talking encounters, that progressed in a, you know, linear fashion to a predetermined goal.
So, basically like a computer game. An example that leaps to mind is Resident Evil 4. You can explore certain larger areas, but essentially there's only one way forward.
I have fond memories of running these adventures.
I eventually left the club after dropping my writing duties to be 'just another player', and discovering that I didn't really enjoy playing as much as I did writing.

I've been playing table top RPG since being snowed in at a friends house in Feb 1996. The first game I played was Cyberpunk, followed by Ars Magica and Paranoia (not all on teh same night, though).
I was made aware of Vampire and Mage around that time, and remember being unaccountably annoyed that The Order of Hermes and the Tremere were included in those games as options rather than the main focus.
When I got to Uni, though, the only games on offer were Vampire: the Masquerade and Changeling: the Dreaming. Mage: the Ascension reared its head once as well.
I started playing a Vampire game, and quickly discovered how a game can go wrong.

I started running games simply because the guy that normally ran them was, in my opinion, a moron. I could do better, I thought. I can show him how it should be done.
I did ok. Not great. Ok.

Since then i've run Vampire: tM, Mage:tAs, In Nomine, Ars Magica, Adventure!, Star Wars d20, D&D 3.5 and 4, Exalted, Aberrant, Trinity, basic World of Darkness, Hunter: The Reckoning, Orpheus and now Hunter: The Vigil.
All to an Ok standard. I think.

I currently play with a weekly group in my local town.
Most of them like old school D&D or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. They recently played Cyberpunk, which went down well.

geekbook / RPGeek / nook.geek / whatever

Why I started this blog / Naming is the hardest part / too many slashes

I've been reading Justin Achilli's blog for awhile now, for two reasons.
1/ I'm a WW/WoD fanboy, and enjoy the insight and perceived familiarity with one of the developers of my favourite game line. I also read the WW staff blogs on LJ when they did those, particularly enjoying Ethan Skemp's. It's a real shame they stopped.
2/ Justin's views on the playing experience and game design behind that experience match what I would try to ask myself if I designed games for a living. I don't design games though, I work in a bank.
Due to reading Justin Achilli's blog, I started looking at the other blogs on the RPG Bloggers Network, and realised that there are loads on D&D blogs and discussions, and very little about the game lines that I like. In fact, when you filter for World of Darkness blogs, you get the same handful of people, and they're mostly writing about Mage: The Awakening.
Don't get me wrong, I own M:tAw, and like it, however I also own Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Foresaken, Changeling: The Lost and Hunter: The Vigil, all of which I feel are better games. Mage, whilst good, seems a bit ... disjointed. In many ways it is an improvement on Ascension, and in other ways it's not so good. I suspect that it may have compromised so that it plays nicely with the other game lines in the setting.

So, I started this blog to brain dump about the Hunter: The Vigil game i'm running, about how much I'd like to play Changeling: The Lost, about game ideas for Vampire:tR and Werewolf:tF and other gaming related stuff that's on my mind.

And once I have some discipline and am posting regularly, try to hook up with the RPG Bloggers Network.
It's a dream - have a blog, and have people read it.

Titles - Obviously every possible original blog title under the sun has been taken, and we're now in the realms of a post-modern, plagerised and self-referential naming convention. Even the bad puns are taken.
I had a LJ group called 'geekbook', which I used to support a World of Darkness game I ran about three or four years ago. That title's taken.
I tried RPGeek, which I thought was good enough without being pretentious or precious. That was taken as well.
So it's nook.geek, which is my first name with geek stapled on. My creativity ran dry.